Nothing. Nada, niet, zilch, zero, zip.
That's all, really. I wanted to say something about Ian McEwan or Martin Amis or Graham Swift, or Zadie Smith - or even why I've decided I love Jeanette Winterson. But they're too easy targets. So I'll have t piece together an argument from the start.
And it starts in many places.
It starts with the wonderful world of independent literature - the fantastic small presses, cool shops, salons, scenes within scenes that are springing up.
It starts with Katie Price and Martine McCutheon, and "celebriterature"
It starts with the fact that we don't have an aplication or submission process at Year Zero.
And it starts with Haruki Murakami.
I love Murakami. So do hundreds of thousands of others. My bodily fluids are in disarray at the thought of 1Q84 arriving in translation. If I met him I'd probably faint.
It really starts with WHY I love Haruki Murakami. I love him, you see, because he wrote "Again and again I called out fro Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place" and I cried for about 10 minutes afterwards. I love him because he wrote a scene about a woman, stuck on a ferris wheel, who looks into the window of an apartment and sees herself, commiting acts she could never imagine, and that scene changed the way I write forever.
I equally love Penny Goring because she wrote the line "You find me at night when I’m trying to sleep and tell me all about why you can’t stay."
And that's the point I'm making. I love people who do amazing things with words. Rather, I love the amazing things they do with words (there are many other thigs I love about Penny, of course, but they have to do withthe fact it's my privilege to know her).
But the more I see of even the Indiest of the Indie world of publishing, the more I realise how uncommon that is. We all have heroes, of course. I guess we do, anyway. But the literary world (and I know it's not alone) is full of a certain kind of adulation that I really don't like. An adulation for names. A deferentiality - be it for Zadie Smith or David Vann or whoever. And it goes hand in hand with a derogation of Katie Price and Martine McCutcheon, and I am left in a state fo constant bewilderment that no one sees the contradiction.
Much of the literary world, it sems to me, is all about names. It's about clubbiness and cliquiness. About liking the right thing and disliking the right thing - about thinking (tired and overused example, sorry, but it's been a long week and I'm tired and overused) John Diamond was a brave man chronicling his demise and Jade Goody was an attention-crazy slapper. About whom you've met, whom you've heard, how famuos your guests are, who retweets you, who says hi to you down the pub. And frankly, I find the whole thing utterly nauseating.
We had a Year Zero gig this week (still waiting a coupla piccies before I write it up). We held it at the OVADA Gallery in Oxford, a project run largely by unpaid staff and directors to bring the arts into the community, against a backdrop of a fantastic exhibition called Hidden Voice, put on by young carers from the county. It was the best gig I've ever been to, with 40 or 50 of the loveliest people I've met in a long long time. It came about purely by chance when a friend pointed me to an exhibition there, and I got chatting to the curator and said do you ever do literary nights, and two weeks later we were doing one. She didn't know me from Adam but she had a read fo some of our stuff, and circulated their mailing list, advertised on the Arts council website, gotus a slot on local radio, made our ragtag group feel, in short, welcome. Part of a bigger picture in which we're all doing the same thing - trying to build a world with more art in it.
Why mention the fact we don't have a submission pocedure at Year Zero? Well, it sounds rather clubby and cliquy, that's why. But it's not. It's simply that we do a certain kind of thing and - without giving away too many details - rather a lot of us are rather damaged so we need to have a safe space to do it in. Think of us like a band - you wouldn't say a band was a clique just because they don't let every bass player play bass for them. I HOPE we do everything we can to encourage others doing the kind of thing we're doing, and to share what we've learned. I'm sure we could do more, but I hope that's through lack of resource not lack of willing.
We called our gig on Wednesday "Open-armed and Outcast", and the more I think about it the more important that description feels. There is a whole world in the arts that's about belonging in the "in crowd" - and for me it's even more distasteful and prevalent in the allegedly indie scene, where it's mixed with a cultural snobbery.
There are all sorts of debates to be had about filtering and gatekeeping, of course, and how it can ever be possible to read everything out there and give stuff a chance, but I want to make a very simple, very plain point. It's cool to like great writing. It's cool to have something move you to tears or laughter or despair or exhilaration and to tell teh world how great it is - whether it be by Zadie Smith or Jane Unknown or, yes, by J K Rowling. It is NOT cool to like something because it is by Zadie Smith, or to tell people you had Zadie Smith giving a lecture in your store whilst you hide the fact embarrassedly that you also had Jane Unknown. And it is VERY NOT COOL to say something's crap because it was written by J K Rowling.
I have met a lot of wonderful people in the publishing industry since I joined Year Zero (I don't actually think I've met anyone from the industry who isn't really nice), but my experience has done nothing but confirm why I want to have nothing to do with that industry.
What's in a name? Absolutely nothing.
What's in a word? Absolutely everything.